The Art of Balance
This painter takes his time on his climb to the top
By Jessica Laskey
Justin Marsh isn’t interested in being a flash in the pan. The painter and photographer is in it for the long haul.
“I’ve tried to play the long game,” Marsh says on a break from an in-studio day at his house in South Land Park. “I didn’t pursue my master’s degree or residencies. I didn’t fast-track myself into a big artist network. I went for the conservative approach so I could develop my studio practice and navigate a professional career, a studio career and a family all at the same time.”
An early fascination with comic books caused Marsh, a Lodi native, to fall in love with drawing. He earned a bachelor’s degree in pictorial art from San Jose State University in 2007.
While in San Jose, he organized and curated 12 & Taylor, an artist cooperative housed in a converted basement that hosted pop-up art exhibitions. Since moving to Sacramento in 2010, he’s handled installations for Crocker Art Museum, the Anderson Collection at Stanford University and UC Davis’ Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, where he’s now the exhibition and program “preparator”—someone trained to handle and install objects in a museum.
“It was a chain reaction,” Marsh says of his gigs over the past several years. When he was 20, he got a job working “front of house” at the San Jose Museum of Art. That led to a part-time job on the museum’s installation team. Later, the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art hired him to do installation as well. “With that experience, I ended up getting hired to handle the installation of the new Crocker wing, which took a year and a half,” he says. “That was pretty wild.”
Marsh makes the most of every opportunity. When he joined Sacramento’s Axis Gallery, an artist-led gallery space inside Verge Center for the Arts, the gallery was “fairly quiet,” he says, full of older members exploring art in their retirement. Marsh stood out as well-versed in creating his own exhibition opportunities and highly experienced in the art of museum-quality installation. Axis Gallery relies on its members not only to keep up the studios but also to show regularly and recruit new members.
“It’s very much a DIY approach,” Marsh says. “To build critical mass, you have to network with other artists.”
Marsh’s artwork is a combination of photorealistic and abstract imagery captured in oils and arresting photos of dilapidated buildings.
“The thread for a lot of my work is the concept of some sort of loss or failure,” Marsh says. “It probably comes from losing my father when I was very young. In high school, we would flip through copies of National Geographic to find photos we liked. I came across this image of a collapsed bridge in Burma. It really stuck with me that this fallen structure—the cascading of forms—could be chaotic but also beautiful. Ruined structures can express a broken home, things that can no longer hold their own weight. The jumping-off point for me was the idea of looking at failure from a literal, physical perspective, so I started going to abandoned sites like the Del Monte cannery on C Street to take photos.”
To see Justin Marsh’s work, go to jgmarsh.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org